Evan Foster was spending the early hours of Friday morning with his friends at the Willoughby residential hall when he discovered some alarming news on Facebook and Twitter. Texts also began rapidly circulating, causing the 20-year-old president of the Pratt Institute chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity to go outside and see if the rumors were true. They were. At 2:34 a.m., he and the rest of the student body received an email from school officials that stated what had become obvious to all awake. The subject line simply read: “Fire on Campus.”
A fire began on the top floor of the art school’s six-story Main Building at 200 Willoughby Ave., according to the fire department, growing to a four-alarm blaze at 3:11 a.m. that required the efforts of 168 firefighters. Three firefighters and one civilian were treated for injuries caused by the fire, said a fire department spokesperson.
Pratt Institute President Thomas F. Schutte reported in a statement to the school community that the sixth floor was destroyed, along with all of the student artwork in it, and parts of the roof collapsed. The fifth floor was severely damaged. And the other floors in the building all suffered water damage from the containment effort.
The fire department is still investigating the cause of the fire.
“I have friends who lost everything,” said junior Meredith Antle, 20, a graphic design major.
The Main Building belongs to the Fine Arts Department, which assigns seniors and their work to the sixth floor and juniors’ work to the fifth. Many senior fine arts majors working on their final school projects lost their entire body of work. Throughout the day, some of these victims and their friends would stop to look up at the charred structure. Some students fought back tears as they walked through campus.
“This was gallery work they’ve been working on their whole lives,” said senior German Yanez, 22, a film major.
Yanez woke up to the news Friday morning and quickly called his friend and Kappa Sigma frat president Foster. They gathered volunteers and set up a table near one of the entrances to campus, with a box for donations. Fellow students somberly gave money for the tragedy that happened only a few buildings from where they stood.
Not only was priceless work lost in the fire, but expensive art supplies were as well. Yanez and Foster are contacting stores like Blick Art Supplies for donations.
“We’re talking to everybody for help,” said Yanez. “We’re just taking this one step at a time.”
School President Schutte cancelled classes Friday that would be held in the Main Building and the neighboring South Building, which was not damaged by the fire but lost its power when the Main Building did. Schutte expressed in his statement that he and Pratt faculty are working on both short-term and long-term recovery plans, and that he expects power to be returned to South over the weekend.
“Our hearts go out to those students who lost precious artwork as a result of this tragic accident,” wrote Schutte. Pratt faculty will advise these students on a case-by-case basis, and the institute will be making counseling personnel available to all who need it.
The Department of Fine Arts has a startling image of the blaze as the banner photo of its Facebook page, but an inspiring message is written across the flames in capitalized white letters: “WE ARE ARTISTS & WE WILL REBUILD!”